Veteran resources during coronavirus pandemic

Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 10:32 AM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - The number of coronavirus cases in the state of Texas continues to rise. From the very beginning, we have heard this virus can seriously impact the most vulnerable in our community, and that includes older veterans.

In the U.S. as of Friday, there are over 5,200 active Veteran Affairs COVID-19 cases and over 2,100 deaths related to the virus.

Michael L Kiefer, the Director of Central Texas Veterans Health Care System joined BVTM Friday to talk about resources available to veterans, even though face-to-face visits are limited.

Kiefer says all regional clinics are open right now. However, they’re scaling down to face-to-face appointments for patients who have needs that are emergent. Others have transitioned to appointments using a new system called VA Video Connect.

Kiefer says some veterans actually prefers video connect rather than traveling the distance to get to a clinic in the rural areas.

“It’s been a mixed bag, as you can imagine. Some people obviously prefer to go face-to-face but we’ve experienced a high acceptance rate of both telephone and VA Video Connect encounters,” Kiefer said.

Kiefer says the VA started reducing face-to-face appointments in late March. That’s when they started a COVID check-in where teams reached out to veterans assigned to clinics and made sure they understood what was happening.

“If the veterans had upcoming appointments, we asked them if they would prefer to either wait to see how far out in advance we would have to push these appointments because of COVID, or transition to telephone to VA video connect appointments,” said Kiefer.

If a veteran tries to visit a local clinic now, they’ll find the doors locked, with instructions on the door of what to do next.

“That process alone safeguards veterans from coming in with other veterans who may have COVID and don’t need to be there and it also safeguards our staff from being exposed,” said Kiefer.

Kiefer said the clinics also adopted a no visitor policy when the pandemic began, including at their assisted living facilities, to protect the patients.

“For those veterans who are at the end of their life who are on hospice care, we do allow a guided visitation for loved ones,” Kiefer said.

Kiefer oversees 39 counties in the Central Texas region.

“We are doing very well. We’ve had very limited exposure, and when we do have exposure, we isolate or segregate those workers and they go home,” Kiefer said.

If a veteran is struggling with other underlying health issues and is need of a new prescription or a follow-up appointment, Kiefer says there is a way to still get help. The vet just needs to reach out to their patient aligned care team if they’re enrolled with the VA.

“For those who have chronic conditions, we’re seeing them mostly by telehealth or with a phone call,” Kiefer continued. “Some of them for the chronic issues, they require either an image or a laboratory test so they can monitor those chronic conditions over time. So we do see patients in our laboratory and in our imaging centers in greater numbers than we see in typical face-to-face encounters because those diagnostic tools are important for our providers to continue to manage those chronic conditions, even if they’re not being seen face to face.”

Kiefer stressed he knows many people are looking forward to getting back to normal, but he says the VA is working on a Moving Forward plan.

“Once we hit the trigger that is reduced admissions across the county, we’ll do an additional 25 percent from baseline visits, and if all goes well and we continue to see declines in the environment, we’ll go to 50 percent. Right now, we think for the foreseeable future, the most we’ll be able to do is 75 percent,” Kiefer said.

Overall, every clinic is a case-by-case basis. Their primary goal is to keep staff and veterans safe. Kiefer says it’s important to remember there is no timeline on this, it is an event driven process.

“When the events occur that allow us to do this safely, we will trigger to the next level or more face-to-face visits. I know that’s a source of frustration for our nation across our nation as a whole, but that’s really the safest way to proceed.”

If you are a veteran and need to make an appointment, call 1-800-423-2111 and choose option 2. That will get the vet into the phone center for assistance.

Copyright 2020 KBTX. All rights reserved.

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